“Why are you screaming? Are you in labor?” my husband pondered in our second trimester. “Oh yeah, I’ve had some heartburn too, it’s not fun,” my friends sympathized. “Just don’t eat fries,” a nurse suggested. No one seemed to understand that if I had even one bite of toast, it could send me to the emergency room. All because of one pesty unknown organ.
What is a gallbladder? And why does it become many pregnant women’s worst enemy? It is a minuscule pocket that lives below your liver storing bile that travels through ducts to break down fats. So when any type of fat is eaten, bile from the gallbladder is released to help digest nutrients. Gallstones and related pain are common in women, pregnancy, obesity, fatty diets, ages forty and up, and diabetes. Sometimes when too much cholesterol is ingested or when pregnancy hormones rampage, causing bile to slow, people develop gallstones, or crystalized bile, that can cause inflammation, chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath, or no symptoms at all. Some people can live with gallstones healthy and happy with no need to change diet or lifestyle. I, on the other hand, had ALL the symptoms.
I am a relatively healthy female in her late twenties and had an average diet during pregnancy for someone with chronic nausea and fatigue. I never had gall pain before in my life. Routine heartburn made its appearance in my second trimester and I took the usual Costco-sized Tums tub with me to bed, but it got worse. The heartburn would start, then an imploding chronic crunch encircled my breastbone to my back. I could not breathe since the pain to inflate my lungs and move my body was so severe. My neck and shoulders tensed from the location of this exacerbated organ (usually associated with right-sided shoulder pain) AND from the fear of pain increasing. Nausea and migraine also made their appearances. Sitting, standing, laying, stillness, and movement were NOT options.
The only brief comfort I found was bent in the shower running hot water on my heart and cold tiles pressed against my back. But soon even this could not alleviate pain. I tried floating in pools, compresses, medication, prenatal massages. Nothing helped. After EKG machines read no heart attack indicators and going through ultrasounds, the doctor said I had an inflamed gallbladder with many stones and perhaps each “attack” is a stone passing. Everyone recommended a diet change. But I did not even eat before some attacks occurred. I had four visits to the hospital before I was ready to deliver, each time with similar but worsening symptoms. Surgeons did not want to remove it before delivery for fear it may interrupt babies’ growth.
I left work on disability at 34 weeks for these pains and attacks. I urged the surgeon to remove my gallbladder when I did finally go to the hospital with labor at 36 weeks and when notified I was to have an emergency c-section. “Just take all three of them OUT!” The surgeon wisely stated a uterine cut and gallbladder incision are in very different locations. I was scheduled to have a separate laparoscopic surgery for removal (Cholecystectomy) two weeks after my c-section. I recovered with the help of our family, friends, and doctors. Thank God this was my main pregnancy concern. Things could’ve been much worse. Recovery from both surgeries was slow, but steady. I can now eat actual food, but it was not an easy road.
Know that you are not alone in gall attacks and suffering. It is a small organ, but debilitating if it gets angry! Once my husband and I knew this was the problem, we were relieved to know there was an easy solution. I had zero gall pain post-surgery with only some residual heartburn and eating anxieties. Now can have my beloved pizza again (in moderation) and look back towards the experience with gratitude… and two babies to boot.
All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.
Molly Kessler is a clinical social worker, presenter, and writer in south Florida. Molly is married and currently working full time as a mom of almost six month old boy/girl twins. Molly enjoys everything from being an informal birth doula for friends to playing with puppies to photography. Molly is available for writing, speaking, and counseling upon request. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, check out her blog.
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